Externship Field Supervisor Information

Interested in becoming a field supervisor? Download our Field Supervisor Handbook.

As externs, Cooley students are supervised by practicing lawyers. Under their supervision, many students appear before real judges on motion day and conduct full trials. Cooley students write legal briefs and memoranda of law, draft legal documents, prepare client files, take depositions, and engage in discovery. They shadow lawyers in court, in conference rooms, and in their offices. The goal is that all externs take what they have learned in class, and apply it in a structured, but real, practice setting.

Externs are fully engaged with their law school, receive credit for this experience, and report their hours each week to the school. Each extern is assigned a faculty supervisor, who oversees the student's progress toward meeting their specific educational goals and engages in discussion with the extern. The school also approves all extern sites before any placement and visits them periodically.

To become an externship site, please download the Externship Information Form and submit copy to externs@cooley.edu or fax at 517-334-5714.

Cooley externs learn in court, in board rooms, and in law offices across the nation.

Thomas M. Cooley Law School's Externship Program is designed to help students explore four factors: the legal skills each student identifies, the systems in which lawyers work, ethical issues, and reflective practice of law. Cooley externships provide third-year students with the opportunity to expand on their substantive and practical legal education by practicing alongside an experienced attorney in the extern’s area of interest. For one 14-week term, each supervising attorney assigns legal work to an extern and acts as a teacher and mentor. The attorney provides the extern and the school with regular feedback about his or her job performance and insight into the professional obligations of being an attorney. The extern also meets regularly with a Cooley faculty member, who reinforces lawyering skills and helps the extern begin the lifelong process of "reflective-lawyering." The close relationship between student, attorney and professor helps the extern bridge the gap between law school and real-world practice.

The best part of the Thomas M. Cooley Law School Externship Program is limitless opportunities. Since the beginning of the program, thousands of students have participated in externships at over 2,000 different placement sites. The list grows as new sites are reviewed and approved by the faculty each term.

So why bring Cooley students into your practice?

They are learning the law to be practicing attorneys. Their learning curve on a new job will be significantly less because of their preparation, and their tenacity will see them through any challenge presented. They will bring determination, excellent research skills, thorough legal knowledge, and enthusiasm to your practice. After all, they are making it through one of the toughest, most rigorous legal education programs in the nation.

Fair Labor Standards Act and externs

The Fair Labor Standards Act governs whether a person is a trainee who receives credit or an employee entitled to at least minimum wage. The six-part test for unpaid interns states:

1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;

2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;

3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;

4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;

5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and

6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

The Department of Labor has recently issued a fact sheet on unpaid interns (pdf).

The FLSA provides some exceptions for individuals who volunteer to perform services for a state or local government agency and for individuals who volunteer for humanitarian purposes for private non-profit food banks. WHD also recognizes an exception for individuals who volunteer their time, freely and without anticipation of compensation for religious, charitable, civic, or humanitarian purposes to non-profit organizations. Unpaid internships in the public sector and for non-profit charitable organizations, where the intern volunteers without expectation of compensation, are generally permissible.

All Cooley extern supervisors must agree in writing that they understand that the purpose of the program is for the student’s educational benefit, that they are not displacing any regular workers, and that they will provide feedback and observation opportunities. They also should recognize that providing supervision and work space has a cost. As a result the supervisor may not derive an immediate benefit from the externship.


For more information about the Thomas M. Cooley Law School Externship Program, please email externs@cooley.edu.

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